Social Networking, where are the leaders?

Social Networking, where are the leaders?

Monday, 25 February 2019

Social networking could bring big benefits to leaders, but the majority of them don't do it.


Seven out of ten Fortune 500 chief executive officers have no social media presence at all, according to research by released in August this year. Of the 32 per cent who have at least one account on a social network, 140 have a profile on LinkedIn, 38 are on Facebook, and 28 are on Twitter - and only 19 of them had posted any tweets in the 100 days leading up to the study.


So what about the women? Only 22 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are female, so they are hardly likely to make a huge showing. LinkedIn's global ranking of the top 60 CEOs on social media included just nine women (18 per cent).


It seems that the majority of big business leaders are not yet social media savvy, and women are almost certainly no exception. Whether through lack of time, insufficient knowledge or fear of making a mistake, very few of them are using it.


But they should, says Roland Deiser - because the signs are that women leaders could be particularly good at it.


Deiser, Senior Fellow at the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University in Los Angeles, researches the impact of social media on large corporations, and says he knows of no hard research on women leaders' use of social media. However, in the past he taught at Vienna University where he held seminars on gender-based language, so his opinions on the subject are worth hearing.


"There may be some gender-based strength among women around communication," says Deiser, "and social media is all about communication."


It's time all leaders got to grips with it, he says. "Eventually all leaders will need to engage with social media because it will not go away. Soon it will be used in all leadership functions."


Effective use of social media could raise the profiles of leaders and potential leaders and give them a chance to transform organisations.


In the 20th century, Deiser argues, most traditional management models were based around a strong vertical hierarchy. Practical control and governance came down from the leader in a linear way, through up to 15-20 hierarchical levels. While lateral communications such as chats around the water cooler existed, they were often informal and invisible to leaders.


But the introduction of social media - a lateral form of communication - can completely disrupt the old formal, vertical model.  Social media can make informal communications visible, and previously invisible informal leaders can emerge.


"Social media provides the tools to make informal leaders powerful. They can shake up the whole organisation," says Deiser. This can make the voices of up-and-coming leaders heard, and enable existing leaders to communicate their messages in a less hierarchical way. It could also enable them to understand who their organisation's key influencers are and use their influence to communicate messages more effectively.


Using social media well involves understanding how to use platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter effectively. Gaining the technical knowledge is not hard - marketing departments, online tutorials and help from existing users will provide the basic information.

"Authentic communication is an important ingredient of successful social media practice," says Deiser. "People want to experience what I call unplugged communication - they want to hear your personal opinions about issues."


He contrasts this with the traditional polished, professional, and perfect presentation of much linear top-down organisational communication. "It has a kind of Teflon exterior that seems to have little that is human behind it, whereas successful social media communication requires leaders to be courageous enough to show who they really are, to communicate in an unpolished way."


Many men, he asserts, are clinging to the security of the polished, Teflon style of communication. "They are afraid to let go and show that they do not know everything. However, our times of disruptive change and innovation call for openness to the unknown, for challenging established business models and routines. The more flexible, authentic and self-questioning style that comes with successful social media communication is vital to organisations in the 21st century - and I think women may be better at it."


The art for leaders will be in creatively combining the vertical and horizontal dimensions of communication, so that the vertical is used to provide policies and orientation, and disseminate strategic information - and the lateral is used to discuss it.


"Senior leaders still need to make decisions but should be more prepared to see them debated and challenged," says Deiser. "Other than with the traditional 'broadcast' style of corporate communication, social media is all about conversation and engagement, and leaders need to get used to the idea that they no longer have such rigid control of the message".


It can also be used to gather information, such as what employees are really thinking. This way those at the top will no longer need to rely on rumours filtering up from below in order to get feedback about projects and initiatives.


So is it worth setting time aside to learn to use social media effectively? Deiser thinks it's becoming essential for all leaders - but that women may well have an in-built advantage.


*Roland Deiser is the author of Designing the Smart Organization  (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).  He can be reached at



Our Partners:

Sponsored by Specsavers